Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Much-Welcome Rain

For a spring on PEI, it's been amazingly dry and sunny.  That is wonderful for small children, who want to play outside, but we need rain for the garden.  So waking up today to the promised wet weather was a relief, and the falling raindrops were very much welcome.  As seedlings and new grass and trees and perennials (and wildlife too!) soak in a longed-for drink of fresh, cool water, little boys get a bit rambunctious in the house.

So I took mine outside.  In his pyjamas.  To jump in puddles.  We'll get back to gardening when it dries up a little bit, but this morning was a time to play.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Springing Up in Summerside

 I'm a little ashamed to have taken an almost two-week hiatus from blogging.  Things have been a bit crazy around here: substitute teaching, baking, baby girl cutting four molars at once, sunny days when it is a must to get outside with my busy boy, and community meetings in the evenings.  Perhaps, I can guiltily admit that I started watching the first season of Game of Thrones last week, became addicted, and spent my free time in the evenings squeezing in a few episodes when I could.  I don't watch a lot of TV, but I love that show!  We are almost caught up now though so I won't be neglecting so much from now on...

I have a few backlogged posts to put up including recipes, gardening updates, etc., but to get a little something up from the hopeful homestead in the meantime, here are a few photos from this morning of the colours that are currently dancing in our yard.  It's pretty clear that we are a little behind other regions in terms of what's coming up this spring, but spring has definitely now arrived in Summerside and we are loving being outside.

Leaves unfurling on the little red oak in our backyard.

Bleeding heart in a jungle-like area of our garden that is in desperate need of attention!

Who doesn't love a morning greeting from a violet?

I didn't get it in the photo, but there was a tiny spider spending some time on this bloom.

Finally, planting 90 tulip bulbs last fall has paid off with some lovely pinks and yellows!

One of my favourite first blooms of spring--serviceberry.

If we had a "perfect", weed-free lawn, it wouldn't be nearly so cheerful without these forget-me-nots!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gardening Update

We're into May now, and the snow is permanently gone; even if there's still a chance we'll see more flurries (like we did earlier in the week!), at least we know that it won't stick around.  As we inch our way into prime gardening weather, I thought I'd give a little update on what's happening around here in terms of seedlings, planting, tidying, etc.

I think things are going pretty well with the seed starting, considering it is my first year and some of the seeds were getting a little old.  The pumpkin seeds, which were fresh, have done amazingly well and I probably have too much success based on the space I have available!  But too many pumpkins isn't a bad thing, as I'm really looking forward to having my own fresh pumpkin purée for baking this coming year.  Muffins, breads, cakes and pies!  Yum.  Also, since we'll all be helping out with the food pantry garden at our new community garden, I'll just "donate" my extra seedlings and seeds to that space.  If everyone does that, I don't even think we'll have to find seed donations this year.

Happy pumpkin seedlings.
A quick note about the toilet paper rolls for seed starting.  In a way, they worked great.  Awesome for the tomatoes and basil, and the pumpkins did well too, but I did have a little problem with them. Since the pumpkin seedlings are vastly larger than the others, they established big root systems much more quickly.  Those strong, happy root systems, while great for the pumpkins, weren't so great for the tomatoes and basil--they came out the bottoms of the toilet paper rolls, along the tray, and up into the tomato and basil rolls.  I wondered why the basil was taking so long to get going, even though it germinated quickly and I think it was because it was essentially being parasitized by the pumpkins.  So I would suggest that a) you use newspaper pots for the larger vegetables that you start inside, or b) at least keep them in a different tray from the "little guys" to give them a better chance.  My basil seems to have made a comeback, but it's definitely slow going.

Recovering and finally moving along.  Poor little things!
Ah, my love--you and I will spend lots of tender moments together.
I have had pretty good success with the tomatoes.  The only thing that is really disappointing, is that due to lower germination rates/invasion by monster pumpkin roots, I only have four toilet paper rolls with healthy tomato seedlings in them.  This isn't so bad, I'm just happy to have any doing well and I can always buy seedlings at the garden centre until I become a better baby seedling raiser.  However, all the rolls that are doing well have two seedlings in them, and I have to pinch one back in each.  I thought about unwrapping the paper and teasing the two plants apart to keep all eight of the seedlings, but I'm afraid I'd damage them and end up with less than four.  So I'm going to grit my teeth, pinch those precious treasures back, and be happy that I have four organic San Marzano tomato plants this year.

I've also started planting some cold-hardy things outside.  We don't have a lot of growing space around our house, so I'm just doing a little here and there until we get the community garden tilled and established and planted.  Yesterday I put some soil into a few pots that Craig found when he cleaned out our shed (bless his heart) and planted Swiss chard in one and spinach in the other, with help from my ever-ready young helper.  I missed getting a photo of him doing it though (he particularly liked the funny shape of the chard seeds).  But I did get his sister, who came along to inspect his work after the fact.

Yes, my baby wears a bicycle helmet ALL the time.  More on that later. :)
James also made himself quite useful digging up a no-longer-wanted perennial bed.  This is the year of decluttering, getting organized and getting rid of responsibilities that I am not keeping up with, nor care to.  That means you, perennials.  When we moved in, our property was gorgeous and full of vibrant floral beauty.  Our terrible neglect of those beds has meant that we have often teetered on the precipice of a trashy property, and we've been trying to reduce the amounts of areas we have to weed and maintain.  So the giant, curved bed out front, full of all sorts of perennials as well as weigela and sand cherry bushes, is gone.  James decided to mow the soil before helping his dad sprinkle grass seed on the now bare earth and giving it a drink from the hose.

The boy was working hard, and representing. :)
So we still have lots of work cut out for us this year, but I feel pretty happy with what we've accomplished so far and where we're headed.  Hopefully we'll have a successful first vegetable garden!  And we'll spend a lot of time together as a family, being active, responsible, having fun, and loving each other in the process.

This post is shared with Garden Life Link-Up at No Ordinary Homestead.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Corn Chowder--Not Just For Your Grandmother

When I was a child, we didn't really eat corn chowder.  Probably because my mom thought we wouldn't like it (and to be honest, it wouldn't have been my favourite soup-like option).  I remember eating it at my grandparents' though, and while I dutifully ate my whole bowl, I remember my younger cousin from Ontario loving it.  I can still picture her with her little blonde head, sitting at the card table that was set up in the kitchen for the kids to eat at, happily consuming a big bowl of it while we wondered whether or not we liked it.

I love corn chowder now though, and with corn on sale last week at Sobeys, I made a batch with our leftovers.  I based the recipe on this one, but made a few changes to it to suit our tastes a little better!

Corn Chowder

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp (or so) summer savoury (the original recipe calls for thyme leaves from 6 sprigs)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegetable stock, or chicken stock (I used both)
2 cups whole milk
2 potatoes, diced
Kernels from 6 ears of corn
6-8 slices bacon, fried till crisp and crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used marble)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or a tbsp or so dried

Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and summer savoury and cook until the veggies are nice and soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the flour and stir well.  Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and taking care to prevent lumps from forming.  Add potatoes and boil hard for 8 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft and start to break down.  Add the corn kernels and milk (mine were already cooked, you could put them in earlier if you were cutting them off raw cobs), and simmer a little longer (try not to return to a boil as you don't want your milk to separate). Before serving, stir in the cheese, bacon bits, parsley, salt and pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil.  Ladle into bowls and serve with some crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homemade, Crunchy, Sweet Granola

There are loads of granola recipes out there and I would like to try all of them!  For now, this granola works great and as it is a bit on the sweet side, makes a great partner to the plain yogurt that I have just learned to make.

My mom's friend Vicki gave me this recipe, which I changed a little bit from the original.  She and her husband enjoy even just snacking on this granola and they make a big batch before their yearly trip to Florida to eat along the way.  We like mixing it with yogurt and fruit, and I like that it is less fattening and a lot less expensive than what you buy at the grocery store, but very easy and quick to make and is my #1 go-to recipe when I want to bake with James.  He loves making granola!  Or "Granolan", as he used to call it, since his best friend's name is Nolan.

Homemade Granola

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (not so healthy but oh, I love brown sugar!)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 generous tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I have been using walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 300 F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray.

Combine oats, flour, sugar, oil, orange juice, syrup, vanilla, and nuts in a mixing bowl.  Spread evenly on prepared baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes, tossing once to prevent burning.  After the 35 minutes are up, turn off the oven but leave the granola inside for about another half hour to make it even crunchier.  Remove from oven, break up the big chunks into littler bits, allow to cool, and then store in an airtight container.

This granola will keep up to one month, if it lasts that long!

The original recipe included 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp ground ginger.  I don't use the spices because although I like them, I like my granola to have a more simple flavour.  Feel free to spice things up though!  Additionally, when your granola is ready to be stored, you can mix in dried fruit (I love dried cherries!).

I love that little helping hand.

Sweet baking boy.
Mmmm... breakfast goodness.